Video by C4SS: Property The Least Bad Option

C4SS Feed 44 presents ‘s “Property The Least Bad Option” read by Stephen Leger and edited by Nick Ford.

We would be much better off if we weren’t tormented by scarcity. There would be no conflict or potential for conflict over physical goods. This hypothetical world — one of superabundance or post-scarcity or infinite supply or infinite reproducibility or whatever you want to call it — is preferable to both options presented in the libertarian dichotomy. Superabundance would also obviate and overcome other undesirable corollaries of scarcity, including opportunity cost, supply and demand, and ultimately economy itself. Unfortunately, this world doesn’t exist.

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It’s Not the Technology That Causes “Technological Unemployment”

By Kevin Carson. Discussions of technological change in the media are generally coupled with discussions of technological unemployment and the increasing polarization of wealth. A good example is a piece by Eduardo Porter in the New York Times (“Tech Leaps, Job Losses and Rising Inequality,” April 15). Amid talk of all the technological wonders issuing from Silicon Valley, Porter observes that in recent years employers have seized on the falling cost of capital relative to labor that results from such improvements as an opportunity to substitute capital for labor.

The effect has been growing technological unemployment and the capture of most economic growth in the form of exploding wealth for the already super-wealthy.

The phenomenon of capital cheapening relative to labor should raise an obvious question, but of course it does not because we have been conditioned to think of work as something we are given by the owning and employing classes in the form of “jobs” rather than something we do.

About eighty years ago Albert Nock remarked on how odd it was, considering all the vacant land held out of use and all the unemployed labor available to work it, that work was viewed as something given by the employer. Today, likewise, when we hear that workers are unemployed because employers use radically cheapening production tools as a substitute for labor, the question that should — but doesn’t — automatically come to mind is “If the tools are so cheap, why don’t we just use them to work for ourselves and let the employers eat their money?” After all the reason for the factory and wage systems in the first place was a technological shift from cheap, general-purpose craft tools that individual workers could afford to extremely expensive large-scale machinery that only the rich could afford to buy, and then hire others to work.

Now six months factory wages will buy a shop full of open-source tabletop CNC machine tools that can produce goods that once required a million-dollar factory. Since we’re experiencing a shift back to a high-tech version of cheap, general-purpose craft tools, why do we need the wage system at all? Why not work cooperatively and organize our own horizontal mechanisms for pooling risk, providing mutual aid and insuring against sickness and poverty?

The answer is that a whole host of institutional and legal mechanisms exist precisely to keep us from doing so.

The term “technological unemployment” is a wrongheaded way of framing the issue. When technological improvement results in less work to produce the same standard of living, that’s a good thing. That’s why we have a standard work week of forty hours in the U.S. today, as opposed to 70 or 80 as in the early days of the Industrial Revolution.

The problem is not that it takes fewer hours of work to produce what we consume, but that there’s not a proportional drop in the number of hours we have to work to pay for what we consume. And the ultimate source of that problem is not the technology, but who owns it; it’s the wrong people substituting labor for technology. Rather than workers substituting technology for our own labor in order to live better, what we have is those who own the technology and hire labor to work it substituting technology for the labor of those they pay wages.

An observation by Tyler Cowen in Porter’s article inadvertently gives this away.

…[H]e looks around the world to find the relatively scarce factors of production and finds two: natural resources, which are dwindling, and good ideas, which can reach larger markets than ever before.

If you possess one of those, then you will reap most of the rewards of growth. If you don’t, you will not.

Exactly. When we own all the benefits of increasing our efficiency, we celebrate anything that results in less work. A farmer who finds a way to grow just as much corn with half the labor, she doesn’t lament being “put out of work,” because all the benefits accrue to her.

On the other hand our maldistribution of wealth results from who currently owns both the natural resources and the ideas. But neoliberal economics treats that pattern of ownership as a fact of nature, and the laws of economics as a neutral means by which market-clearing prices are established under any circumstances regardless of the pattern of ownership. So to address the problem we have to look at the structure of the economy, not as something that just happened, but something with causes — and motives! — behind it.

Capitalism is not some universal phenomenon of nature governed by neutral rules. It had a beginning in history. And that beginning was far from spontaneous or inevitable. For example, the concentrated ownership of natural resources and arable land that Cowen talks about results from a process of violent robbery in late medieval and early modern times in Europe, and more recently in the colonial world. Before the Industrial Revolution most arable land of Britain had been enclosed by landed elites, and the peasantry transformed into a propertyless proletariat with no alternative but to sell their labor on whatever terms were offered by the owning classes.

In settler societies like North America and Australia, states preempted ownership of land and then granted it to land barons who fenced it off and charged rents to those who would work it. The Enclosures were reenacted in the Third World in colonial and post-colonial times, with tens and hundreds of millions of peasants evicted from land that is now owned by local landed elites and used to grow cash crops for export.

The oil and mineral wealth of the world, likewise, was enclosed by colonial authorities and then doled it out to Western-owned extractive industries. The mineral wealth of southern Africa, for example, and the oil fields of Nigeria and Indonesia that are protected from the local population by death squads hired by Shell. Or the federal lands that passed directly into the government domain from France and Mexico, to which extractive industries like oil, mining, lumber and ranching now have preferential access.

Cowen’s other category, the “ownership” of ideas, is especially key to the corporate enclosure of technological progress as a source of rents. “Intellectual property” is the reason that a Windows or Office CD costs $200, as opposed to Open Office or Ubuntu for $5, and a pill that costs Pfizer a dime to produce costs you five bucks. It’s the reason most of the price of your consumer electronics and appliances comes from embedded rents on patents, rather than labor and material.

Patents and trademarks play the same protectionist role for global corporations today that tariffs did for national corporations a century ago, only they operate at the boundaries between corporations and the rest of the world rather than the boundaries between nations. But just like patents, they restrict who has the right to sell what in a given market. It’s only because of “intellectual property” that Nike can outsource all its actual production to independently owned sweatshops for $5 a pair and charge a $200 Swoosh markup in Western retail chains: Nike has a legal monopoly on the right to decide who produces a certain kind of sneakers, and a legal monopoly on disposal of the product.

Both the absentee ownership of land and resources that were not acquired through direct labor, and the ownership of ideas, are examples of the same phenomenon: Artificial property rights. Franz Oppenheimer argued, in The State, that economic exploitation was possible only when all independent access to productive opportunities had been enclosed, so that employers no longer had to compete for labor with the possibility of self-employment. Having erected these toll gates, the propertied classes are able to charge tribute for access to the basic means of production and subsistence, and charge a monopoly markup on the necessities of life.

The natural outcome of a free and competitive market, when it comes to the fruits of technological progress, is communism. Competition causes the productivity and efficiency benefits of new technology to be socialized in the form of imploding consumer prices and shortened work weeks. Artificial property rights in ideas, on the other hand, enable corporations and plutocrats to enclose these benefits as a private source of rents. And artificial property rights in land and natural resources — like, for example, the Enclosures in Britain 250 years ago — close off competing opportunities for self-employment and comfortable subsistence and leave people with no alternative but to compete for the dwindling supply of jobs that is left.

So the question is not whether technological progress is beneficial, but who owns the benefit: A state-allied class of parasitic rentiers, or us?

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Transhumanism and Anti-Imperialism: Why Technoprogressives should say ‘U.S. hands off Syria!’

By B. J. Murphy. As President Obama has continuously sound off the war drums against Syria, and as the people anxiously wait for a response by Congress as to whether or not another U.S. war against a sovereign Middle Eastern country is ethically desirable, the technoprogressive left of the Transhumanist movement has all but declared a voice in this debate.


Do we stand with the status quo and declare that U.S. imperial intervention is necessary, or do we draw a line and declare opposition to any imperial war moves by the U.S. govt. in respect and solidarity to Syria’s right to self-determination and sovereignty?

Where do we stand?

As Technoprogressives, we stand for the rights of workers, immigrants, LGBTQ and post-gender, nonhuman persons, etc. What differentiates us from the rest of the liberal and revolutionary left, though, is that we also stand for the rights of sentient beings in whatever form they take, which includes robotics. We stand for the individual’s right to choose how long they wish to live and subsequently when they wish to die and how.

The problem though is: War is death. No matter which side of the conflict – whether they are a nationalist authoritarian govt. or a group of religious fundamentalist terrorists – death is an inevitability for each during a time of war. The innocent are caught in cross fire as men, women, and children – combatants and non – are killed by means of gunfire, bombings, and chemical weapons.

Where are these individuals’ right to choose how long they wish to live, or when they wish to die and how? Do we even have a real say in the matter that doesn’t result in further fatal conflicts?

During internal conflicts, as being witnessed in Syria, matters such as that aren’t up to those of us looking in from the outside. The conditions of each country is only understood by those who live within those conditions and have a viable grasp in deciding what their own peoples’ path should take. The U.S. govt., on the other hand, has decided that the Syrian people have no right in declaring which path they take, whether it’s with an Islamic fundamentalist ruling or a secular nationalist one. Instead the U.S. govt. feels that, regardless who is using chemical weapons – a question that has yet to be answered by the United Nations who’s recently finished an investigation on the matter – it is the Assad regime that must be overthrown.

It doesn’t matter if the Syrian people feel the same way, or the contrary, the U.S. govt. knows best for Syria – just as they supposedly knew best for Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, etc. Never mind the repercussions of igniting another pointless, disastrous war, fueled by a profit-driven foreign policy of imperialist adventurism – the U.S. govt. knows best for Syria.

A right to not be killed by a foreign govt.(?)

We must make it an important matter to say that we are against imperialism! We may not be the deciders of civil wars in foreign lands, but we are the deciders of whether or not our own govt. should ignite war as well and for what purpose. When the U.S. govt. had entered WWII, it was only after we’d been attacked by Imperial Japan and it became obvious to us that Nazi Germany was on a war path for global dominance.

Are we in a similar position today? Has Syria become a threat to the U.S. and its inhabitants? No. The civil war being waged within Syria is just that – a civil war.

Where the Syrian people on both sides are witnessing destruction, death, and mayhem, they do not deserve having to face an equal hand in such by a foreign govt. This also includes economic sanctions – an overt means of economic strangulation in which harms the targeted country’s peoples more so than its govt. Do the Syrian people not have a say in what happens to their own country, and consequently to themselves, especially in the hands of foreign govt.’s?

Where do our efforts belong?

The trillions of dollars going into imperialist war efforts is much needed money that isn’t going into more important programs – programs that us technoprogressive Transhumanists have declared our own struggle to ensure and improve, such as education, energy distribution, healthcare, etc. Where money is being funneled in for war efforts in Afghanistan, and here soon Syria, nearly 20% of our scientists have openly stated they’d leave the country due to budget cuts.

As our country continues to rely on fossil fuels for energy, our students aren’t getting a good education without massive federal debt, medical care still being withheld from millions of our citizenry, and our own space program – NASA – is being ignored by our own govt., having to rely on nonprofit efforts like Penny4NASA, we continue declaring war and death the right of the global people. This is unacceptable.

We fixate on troubles occurring overseas, but completely ignore our own faults. Today, here in the U.S., we run the largest prison system in the world, with the vast majority of its prisoners coming from low-wage Black communities – a community that only makes up 12% of the entire U.S. population. Where unemployment is still affecting over 7% of the population, and underemployment 15%, overemployment is negatively affecting the working class, in which over 2/3 have declared they’d opt for less hours even if it meant less wages. As automation continues progressing in the workforce, we’re leaving those with no jobs on the streets and the rest working in jobs that are gruesomely paid little with hardly any benefits. We’re stuck having debates in Congress over whether or not we should go to war, when instead we should be having debates in Congress over whether or not our people should be granted a Basic Income Guarantee!

This dilemma we find ourselves in is the result of remaining voiceless. We hide in the shadows, hoping that our lack of action is seen as being sufficient enough to be taken serious by mainstream America. The consonance of Transhumanism and anti-imperialism is a long overdue calling card of the technoprogressive left! A war with Syria isn’t just a death sentence of foreign peoples who have witnessed nothing else but death, but is a death sentence of our own people as well.

Here which lies before you is a socio-economic system that profits not on human rights – let alone cyborg and post-human rights! – but on the declaration of the right of the people to misery and death. So long we continue waging wars, the more we continue neglecting our own peoples’ rights, freedoms, and lives.

If we are to declare war, let us declare war on poverty, not the poor; let us declare war on oppression, not the oppressed; let us declare war on death, not life!

U.S. hands off Syria!

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Is Transhumanism Compatible with Anarchism?

By John Danaher

Transhumanists want to liberate themselves from the limitations of the human body. Anarchists want to liberate themselves from the limitations of contemporary human social structures. You might think that these two goals are compatible: that the liberatory ethos of transhumanism could complement that of anarchism.

But according to an article by Kolovuo and Karageorgakis (hereinafter “KK”) this is not the case. Starting with the example of eco-anarchism and moving on to more traditional forms of social anarchism, these authors argue that there is an incompatibility between transhumanist and anarchist ideals. In this post, I want to look to take a look at their arguments.

​ I do so by following, in broad outlines, the structure of their own discussion. Thus, I begin by looking at the concept of human nature and the role it plays in both philosophies, then I look at the argument for the incompatibility of eco-anarchism and transhumanism, and I conclude by considering the argument for the incompatibility of social anarchism and transhumanism. (I’ll exclude any discussion of eco-anarchism and bioconservatism, which although it appears in their paper, doesn’t really interest me.)

Before getting to all that, however, I want to make a comment about KK’s general style of argumentation. Much of their article involves quoting from transhumanist sources, noting the apparent compatibility of the statements in those sources with anarchist principles, but then going on to suggest that other statements, or the implications of thereof, are really inconsistent with anarchist principles. This creates the following pattern of argumentation:

Transhumanist writers are committed to proposition X. 

Prima facie, proposition X is compatible with anarchism. 

But either proposition X has implication Y or transhumanists also say Y, and Y is incompatible with anarchism. 

Therefore, transhumanism is incompatible with anarchism.

I worry about this style of argument. I think “transhumanism” is a pretty broad school of thought, one whose core commitments are not fully worked out nor, indeed, appreciated by individual authors (and arguably the same is true of anarchism, though it has been around for longer). Consequently, I would be cautious about arguments that purport to demonstrate the incompatibility of such a broad school of thought with another broad school of thought. An argument that is limited to the views of particular authors is more likely to be successful (and KK’s arguments could be reinterpreted in this manner) but even then the opacity of certain key concepts — e.g. “freedom” and “nature” — make it difficult to assess. We will encounter some of these difficulties below.

1. Three Conceptions of Human Nature
Anarchism is fundamentally an ideology of human emancipation, specifically emancipation from statist control. If there is one thing that anarchists can agree on, it is that the dominating control that the state exercises over our lives is a bad thing, and that it needs to be eliminated. Freeing us from state control will allow us to prosper as human beings, to realise a happier and more harmonious form of life. Anarchists tend to diverge somewhat on the precise form of that life, with libertarian-anarchists emphasising individuality and freedom of exchange, and anarcho-syndicalists emphasising community and co-operative exchange.

The debate between anarchists and their critics is often cashed-out in terms of competing views of human nature. Defenders of the state usually cling to a Hobbesian conception of human nature. Anarchists cling to a more Rousseauian conception. These can be defined as follows:

Hobbesian Human Nature: Human beings are fundamentally (or, at least when left without state control) individualistic, competitive and violent. Without state control, human society would collapse into a war of all against all.

Rousseauian Human Nature: Human beings are fundamentally communitarian, cooperative and benevolent (“nothing can be more gentle than man in his natural state”). It is state control that distorts this fundamentally good nature.

These conceptions are almost certainly an over-simplification of Hobbes and Rousseau’s actual views, but they serve as useful extremes within which we can frame the debate. Thus, even if anarchists don’t fully embrace the Rousseauian extreme, they tend to be closer to that end of the spectrum than their critics. And those critics, in turn, may not fully embrace the Hobbesian extreme, but they tend to be wary about human nature in the absence of state control.

KK acknowledge quite a lot of complexity in this debate. Anarchists are often critiqued for having a naive and wildly inconsistent approach to human “nature”. On the one hand, they tend to assume that present social structures have immense power to reshape and distort the fundamentally good human nature; on the other hand, they tend to downplay any evidence suggesting that we are biologically inclined towards certain forms of violence or non-cooperative behaviour. The problem here may be that the concept of “nature” itself is highly opaque. Is the natural that which is fixed? Or that which is bequeathed to us by evolution? Or is it just that which will express itself in the absence of state control? It’s not entirely clear. As a result it’s not surprising to find some anarchists — KK cite the example of Eckersley — talking about both our potential and essential natures. I’m not sure any of this is helpful. I think what tends to matter is whether human behaviour can be readily altered in morally preferable ways and what methods are best for achieving this.

Anyway, KK think that transhumanists have their own conception of human nature. This conception leans somewhat in the Hobbesian direction (in the sense that it is negative rather than positive) but focuses predominantly on the limitations and restrictions posed by our current biological form. Thus, transhumanists lament the limited cognitive powers, physical capacities and lifespans that are currently made possible by human biology. They urge us to use our intelligence and our technologies to transcend those limitations:

Transhumanist Human Nature: Our natures are primarily constituted by the limitations of our biological form. These limitations are negative. We must use our intelligence and technology to transcend those limitations.

Still, there is some nuance here too because occasionally you may find transhumanists saying that it is “in our nature” to transcend ourselves, i.e. to use our natural rational capacities to transcend our limitations. Again, the vocabulary of “nature” isn’t particularly illuminating.

2. Transhumanism and Eco-Anarchism
Illuminating or not, the “nature”-related discourse dominates KK’s discussion of transhumanism and eco-anarchism. This is for the obvious reason that eco-anarchism is characterised by the belief that contemporary society not only exerts dominating control over human beings, but over the entire natural world as well. It is the goal of eco-anarchists to end this dominating control. Thus, just as we must stop exploiting our fellow human beings for gain, so too we must stop exploiting nature in order to grease the wheels of the capitalism. Instead, we must develop a more harmonious and cooperative relationship with one another and with nature.

KK think that transhumanism is incompatible with the eco-anarchist goal. KK are frustratingly opaque in their development of this argument. The following is simply my attempt to read between the lines:

  • (1) Eco-anarchism is committed to the goal of ending human domination of nature (i.e. of freeing nature from human domination).
  • (2) Transhumanism is committed to the goal of dominating, expropriating and redesigning nature.
  • (3) Therefore, the ideologies are incompatible.

The first premise of this argument is what I derive from KK’s brief discussion of eco-anarchism. I think it is a fair, albeit stipulative definition of their position. The second premise is where the action is. One problem with it — that KK readily acknowledge — is that many transhumanists have explicitly said and endorsed seemingly contrary views. Thus, for example, they cite Nick Bostrom and James Hughes as disavowing speciesist approaches to moral status. They might also have cited David Pearce (co-founder of the World Transhumanist Association, now Humanity+), who is a vegan and who has long argued that we have an obligation to end the suffering of non-human animals. Advocacy of renewable and sustainable energy sources is also found among transhumanists. And indeed, pro-environment principles are incorporated into the Transhumanist Declaration. So what’s the problem?

According to KK, the problem is that despite these explicit endorsements, transhumanists really — when you look at it in more depth — do not value the natural world in and of itself. Thus, despite their claim to value all forms of sentient life, KK submit that transhumanists really only care about intelligent life. They have a couple of examples of this, one being that Bostrom’s concept of existential risk only seems to cover risks to intelligent life. Furthermore, they cite James Hughes as arguing that the ultimate goal of transhumanism is to supplant the natural with the designed, i.e. to use human intelligence to reshape nature in a better way. This suggests a dominating attitude toward nature and leads KK to label transhumanists as “mis-naturalists” (like mis-anthropes, only that their distaste spreads to all natural things).

I think there are two problems with this argument. The first has to do with the general method of argumentation, which I worried about in the introduction to this post. To defend their position, KK must argue that the transhumanists who claim to be committed to pro-nature and pro-environment principles are not really committed to those principles (i.e. that they are either liars or self-deceived), because they are actually committed to another set of contradictory principles. I don’t think that’s a persuasive way to argue, at least when it comes to understanding movements like transhumanism. I think it’s possible for ideologies to contain within them contradictory principles and for the advocates of an ideology to not be fully committed to either (or, to be committed to one set on one occasion and another set on another occasion). Consequently, I don’t think the implicit contradiction has any necessary implications for how transhumanists might act in the real world. Furthermore, I don’t see why we should deny the sincerity of those who do claim to be committed to the pro-environment principles.

The second problem with the argument is that it proceeds on a faulty assumption. Or so I believe. KK seem to presume that nature is intrinsically valuable and is something we should seek to preserve and protect. But I think that is just wrong. Many “natural” things are bad, and not just because they are bad for human beings. Predation is bad for the animals that get eaten; floods are bad for many forms of vegetation; and certain bacteria and viruses can be bad for pretty much everything (apart from the bacteria and viruses themselves). There are many good things about nature too of course, and what I say shouldn’t be taken to mean that plants and animals cannot be afforded some degree of moral status. It simply means that extreme conservationism is morally untenable. We should preserve and protect that which deserves to be preserved and protected; we should try to eliminate or modify that which does not. There’s nothing in the transhumanist view that is inconsistent with that approach to the natural world.

3. Transhumanism and Social Anarchism
So much for the compatibility of transhumanism and eco-anarchism. What about the compatibility of transhumanism with the more traditional forms of social anarchism, i.e. with those that focus on freeing humans from the dominating control of other humans (particularly the state)? Is that also incompatible with transhumanism? Again, KK argue that it is.

Their argument this time round is slightly more subtle than their eco-anarchist argument. I’ll do my best to elucidate its basic logical structure. In general terms, their concern is with the role of technology in the transhumanist project and with who owns and controls that technology. They worry that, far from being a liberatory force, technology can actually reinforce ideologies that restrict and limit human freedom. That gives them the following argument:

  • (4) Anarchists are committed to granting human beings freedom from dominating control.
  • (5) The transhumanist project is likely to reinforce, or create new, forms of dominating control.
  • (6) Therefore, anarchism is unlikely to be compatible with transhumanism.

KK adduce three main lines of support for premise (5). The first is the classic worry that the benefits of enhancing technologies will not be evenly distributed among the population. This may lead to a new transhumanist elite which exerts dominating control over the lower classes of human being. Of course, transhumanists have argued that this may not follow on the grounds that the transhumanist elite might be morally enlightened and less inclined to exert dominating control (just as contemporary human societies are, arguably, more enlightened in this respect than our ancient ancestors). This is speculative to be sure — who really knows what will happen? — but KK dismiss it on somewhat unconvincing grounds, stating that claims like this merely serve to highlight the value-laden nature of the technologies.

The second reason for believing in premise (5) has to do with the control over the innovation necessary for the transhumanist project to succeed. KK argue that this innovation will be controlled by scientific and technological elites (coupled to a technopolitical lobby). These groups will tend to reinforce the existing capitalistic status quo. Finally, the third reason, which is slightly weaker, stems from Bostrom’s concept of the “singleton”, which is a single, independent decision-making entity that he feels may be necessary if we are to guide human evolution in the desired direction. KK reply to this in a pithy fashion: “It sounds like the nightmare of every anarchist” (p. 325).

I have mixed feelings about this argument. I think its best if it is not interpreted as an attempted argument for the incompatibility of transhumanism and anarchism, but rather as a warning call. If we are to follow the transhumanist project, we certainly should be wary about the possibility of reinforcing or perpetuating forms of dominating control, and about the corporate interests and ideologies that might be served by that project.

Nevertheless, I would reject the idea — implicit in KK’s analysis — that enhancement technologies cannot be genuinely emancipatory. Last year, I wrote a paper about enhancement and hyperagency, suggesting that one of the goals of enhancement was to allow human beings to become hyperagents (i.e. agents with complete control of all aspects of their agency). Although there are some legitimate concerns about that possibility — several of which I address in that paper — I fail to see why it would not be genuinely emancipatory. Not unless the concepts of “freedom” and “emancipation” are being understood in some mystical sense that I don’t fully appreciate.

In summary then, although KK’s analysis of transhumanism and anarchism is certainly provocative, and occasionally insightful, I don’t think it is, in the final analysis, persuasive.


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What is Anarcho-Transhumanism?

By William Gillis
Anarcho-Transhumanism is the recognition that social liberty is inherently bound up with material liberty, and that freedom is ultimately a matter of expanding our capacity and opportunities to engage with the world around us…

It is the realization that our resistance against those social forces that would subjugate and limit us is but part of a spectrum of efforts to expand human agency—to facilitate our inquiry and creativity.

This means not just being free from the arbitrary limitations our bodies might impose, but free to shape the world around us and deepen the potential of our connections to one another through it.

It means the tools we use should be openly knowable and infinitely customizable; it means bodies that are not locked into processes in which we have no say. It knows that the hunger for choice behind birth control, regrown limbs and sexual reassignment is the same hunger that organizes workers and sets fire to prisons.

It is struggle to live free… and do so for one more year, one more decade, one more century. It means not just transcending the strictures of gender, but of genetics and all previous human experience. It means fighting to be allowed the fullest actualization of who and what we want to be, whenever we want to be it.

It means challenging and altering the conditions that might otherwise govern us. It means when the tools exist to better our lives they should be used; that no one should starve when such scarcity can be eliminated.

It means vigilantly engaging with nature rather than bullying or surrendering to it. It is the knowledge that victory for the working class will only truly arrive when every worker individually owns the means of production—capable of fabricating anything and everything for themselves. It is proactive engagement with the environmental conditions that force hierarchy and inescapable collectivism.

It means freeing our society from the hierarchies of two dimensional landscapes, to move our destructive infrastructures outside the biosphere and to eventually shake off sedentary civilization and take our place as hunter-gatherers between the stars.

It means cryptography—unbreakable channels of private communication added up into an unbreakable hive of ideas and knowledge. It also means the abolition of public privacy—the creation of a world where the actions we take with one another are sharable and verifiable in an instant.

And ultimately it will be the freedom to surpass the limited bandwidth of language and connect more and more directly to one another—to merge minds and transcend individual subjectivities as desired.

Anarcho-Transhumanism is all of these things and any one of them.

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Capitalism, Free Enterprise And Progress: Partners Or Adversaries?

By Darian Worden. The Industrial Revolution is typically regarded as a story of capitalism, free enterprise, and progress in technology and living standards. This paper attempts to disentangle the threads of capitalism, free enterprise, and progress, in the context of the Industrial Revolution, with a focus on Britain and the United States. It aims to bring some historical perspectives into the current discourse.

This paper will explore the nature of progress, the controversy of living standards, the coercion that existed at the birth of the industrial revolution, and potential alternative points of departure for historical progress. What is the relation between capitalism, free enterprise, and progress? Who benefited from them? Was the specific form that industrialism took the most beneficial of plausible alternatives?

Capitalism, free enterprise, and technological and social progress need to be unbundled from the package idea of the Industrial Revolution. A rough definition of capitalism for this purpose would be:

a social system typified by 1) the control of workplaces by owners who are not laborers in the firm, 2) the direction of work to profit these owners, and 3) social hierarchies produced by these economic relations. Free enterprise could be defined as: a state of affairs in which goods and services are produced and exchanged according to consensual agreements between producers and traders. Technological and social progress means: The improvement of general living conditions and the advance of technology.

Of course all of these definitions are themselves at least somewhat contentious. Capitalism has a number of definitions, and some would contend that the mere accumulation of capital implies or even necessitates a certain social relationship. Free enterprise is also problematic. It suggests either “relatively free enterprise,” some kind of gradation, or an abstraction that is useful as a model but not fully achievable. And determining whether specific examples of activity do or do not constitute free enterprise can also be tricky. The relationship between technological progress and social progress is not always so clear, as will be shown below. But the concepts are sufficiently clear for a useful study.


The Enlightenment was a historical movement well suited to foster a culture of innovation. Enlightenment principles can be characterized by a belief in reason, and an emphasis on human capability and earthly dignity. These principles combined with the printing press and the fracturing of religious and political authority accelerated the progress of science and ethics in Western Europe.


It is of prime importance to examine the political context in which a socio-economic system operates. If the market functions on “higgling and bargaining” and coercion exerts significant pressure on the “higgiling and bargaining,” then is the term “free market” really appropriate? And how free is enterprise in such a market?

British industrialization took place at a time in which the rulers of Europe were terrified of the French Revolution, an event whose proclamation of liberty, equality, and fraternity resonated widely among individuals who labored under the old order. Because access to land and resources was distributed according to political privilege and not occupancy and use, the masters of the productive process were able to prevent industrial and agricultural labor from living autonomous and prosperous lives.

E.P. Thompson, in his classic text The Making of the English Working Class, characterizes the years 1760 to 1820 as “years of wholesale enclosure, in which, in village after village, common rights are lost, and the landless and – in the south – pauperized labourer is left to support the tenant-farmer, the landowner, and the tithes of the Church.” Enclosure of the commons severely restricted opportunities for personal autonomy, creating a more controllable workforce. This phenomenon was not unrecognized at the time. An article in Commercial and Agrictultural Magazine in the year 1800 cautioned against distributing too much land to the laborer because,

When a labourer becomes possessed of more land than he and his family can cultivate in the evenings… the farmer can no longer depend on him for constant work…

Possessing the means of subsistence could “transform the labourer into a petty farmer; from the most beneficial to the most useless of all the applications of industry.” Though this primarily concerns agricultural, not industrial workers, the principle remains that potential employees who are well off will likely demand more compensation for their labor than those who have few other options.

The worker’s options were further restricted by legal inequities. At a time when combination acts targeted trade unions and reform organizations, large manufactures colluded with each other to cut off the power of exit from the workers‟ bargaining chips.

Such a state of affairs did not pass without resistance. Reform societies sprung up to agitate for more liberty for commoners. Jacobins and other radicals circulated subversive literature, including the works of Thomas Paine. An influential book was Volney’s Ruins of Empire, excerpts of which were circulated as a Jacobin tract during the 1790s. Ruins contains a segment dividing society among two classes of people. The majority of people “by useful labours contribute to the support and maintenance of society.”

They were “labourers, artisans, tradesmen, and every profession useful to society,” and they were exploited by “a petty group, a valueless fraction,” who were “none but priests, courtiers, public accountants, commanders of troops, in short, the civil, military, or religious agents of government.”

The state resorted to all sorts of measures to suppress radical threats to the established order. E.P. Thompson describes legal decrees breaking up reform societies, police spies, executions, and paying of mobs to terrorize reformers. Despite the repression, they continued to hold widespread public support and were admired at their trials.

Industrialization emerged from a context of coercion and social conflict.

The Standard of Living Controversy

Although industrialization resulted in a tremendous increase in aggregate wealth, the benefits did not immediately reach those on the bottom of the social hierarchy. Technological improvement should lead to widespread improvements in the quality of life. However, the social structure of capitalism impeded the general improvement in living conditions.

Evidence of unequal benefits is seen in Robert Fogel‟s study, The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100. In his examination of statistics of height, mortality, and nutrition, he concludes that the great advances of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries “brought only modest and uneven improvements in the health, nutritional status, and longevity of the lower classes before 1890.” An example of his findings is that:

Data on life expectancy in Great Britain reveal that although the life expectancy of the lower classes remained constant or declined in some localities during much of the nineteenth century, the life expectancy of the upper classes rose quite sharply. From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to the end of the nineteenth century, the gap in life expectancy between the upper and lower classes increased by about 10 years.

Clearly the benefits of industrialization did not reach all the English people equally. As shown by examining the extensive political conflict and regime of coercion, such inequality was not a given, but a consequence of choice.

The influence of increased population density and migration on disease could be noted to explain the lack of longevity increase. But this is just another way of saying that the living conditions of the poor tended to be dangerous and unsanitary. The elimination of laboring in rural commons as a viable option meant that more people would be exposed to these conditions with less ability to improve them.

By the start of the twentieth century, longevity began to increase. By this time labor movements, increased social consciousness and valuation of production over command, a gradual accumulation of capital in lower classes, returns on previous investments in health and medicine, mutual aid organizations (including friendly societies), and accessible technological improvements allowed the benefits of industrialization to reach the lower classes to a greater extent.

It is also necessary to consider the subjective nature of living standards. Even if the factory worker could afford to consume more calories and work fewer hours than his ancestors who were agricultural workers, he might prefer working in the fresh air without foremen and stopwatches. However, the onslaught of the land monopoly and the brutal suppression of working class combination made this a less viable option.

While industrialization eventually raised living standards, it took many years for the benefits to reach those who were forced to the bottom of the social hierarchy.

Capitalism Versus Free Exchange

Capitalism as a social relation can be characterized as a parasite on free exchange and scientific progress as they emerged from under the domination of state and church, a cause of distorting technological change to serve the ends of economic and political domination, and an obstacle that prevented the benefits of production from reaching everyone as evenly as they would in a comparatively undistorted free market.

John Thelwall, a prominent English Jacobin, denounced laws against the association of workers, as well as the “land monopoly,” enclosures, and “accumulation of capital,” declaring that “a small quantity of labour would be sufficient to supply necessaries and comforts, if property was well distributed.” He envisioned a society based on independent manufacturers, smallholders, and small traders, in which there existed protections for laborers.7 (It would be interesting to examine the extent to which combination acts prevented the rise of co-operative business organization as an egalitarian method of scaling up independent artisan enterprises to better compete with capitalist industry.)

Because coercion left workers with few means of subsistence besides hiring out their labor for long hours, they were unable to compete against the privileged. The closing of opportunities to labor worked to the advantage of the capitalist. In order to reclaim the ability to engage in some measure of free enterprise themselves, workers had to limit the control of capitalists; in other words they had to stifle the advance of capitalism. Because investments in new technology were made by the wealthy, research and implementation of new technology largely responded to the demands of the wealthy and prioritized profitability for owners over improved labor conditions.

Alternative Points of Departure for the Course of History

While it is difficult to make convincing counterfactual arguments, it is useful to discuss other possible courses of history in order to undermine arguments of historical necessity and demonstrate the relevance of the historical experience to current critiques of capitalist society.

The suppression of anti-scientific superstition and the enhancement of individual sovereignty could have provided incentives to labor freely for a better world. The technology and production methods produced by a free society would have been produced in a cultural atmosphere of comparative solidarity and an economic atmosphere of comparative egalitarianism. Instead of serfdom, starvation, and dark satanic mills, the worker could have produced in a freer workplace and lived in a freer society. A more equal rise in living standards combined with the more widespread investment in resources could have brought environmental concerns to prominence earlier.

Commercial customs involving pre-industrial craftsmen reveal a preference for fairness and quality. E.P. Thompson describes how wages were regulated by local custom. The social prestige of the worker or notions of fair prices, just wages, or standards of craftsmanship influenced prices. Profit and value was not measured only in monetary units. However, this state of affairs should not be idealized: Custom and guild associations created social hierarchies and cartelization by artisans, entrenching the privilege of some workers and limiting the mobility of others.

But customs in pre-industrial society are valuable as alternative points of departure, as the basis for a direction of improvement, instead of an inconvenience to be replaced with more brutal hierarchy. The rise of capitalism didn‟t destroy a free market, but it prevented one from emerging.

Political revolutions suppressed or recuperated by authoritarian elements in Europe and the United States during the period of industrialization failed to firmly establish the liberty that could have resulted in a more egalitarian technological flourishing. While libertarian and egalitarian ideas were developing during the period of industrialization, various elites managed to keep control of society and continue its operation along hierarchical and authoritarian lines.

An emphasis on liberty, equality, and fraternity, which was popular in radicalism of the period, would have been beneficial to the commons had they been allowed to take root. In her article “Reformulating the Commons,” Elinor Ostrom lists a series of factors that increase the likelihood of successful self-governing of commons by their users. Among these are trust and reciprocity among appropriators, and autonomy from external authorities. The prevalence of radical ideology could have increased trust and decreased enforcement costs, thus increasing the feasibility of self-governing commons with a minimal amount of hierarchy. Agriculture could then have been under stable control by laborers, benefitting food production, increasing the options for laborers, and enhancing the ability of workers to accumulate capital. But as it happened, the commons were stolen, laborers were left with little land, and the authoritarian political structure of the day would have regarded cooperative associations with suspicion at the very least.

Applicability to Modern Times

A disentangling of the threads of capitalism, free enterprise, and technological and social progress enables one to better separate good and ill in history. A lot of the evil that people endured for the goods delivered by technology was not necessary to suffer. This opens questions about industrialization in the abstract, as well as the direction of technology. Another area that could be examined is the improvement of agricultural techniques in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the extent to which monopoly prevented its gains from reaching most people.

Finding alternative points of departure in the voluntary associations and common customs of history can lead to an improved ability to find alternative points of departure in today’s associations and customs that can lead to a future of greater freedom.

Prosperity and progress did not require privilege. A sacrifice in living standards accompanied a sacrifice in freedom, and standards and freedom rose as the power of the master classes was upset and the benefits of technological progress were made more accessible.


  1. Carson, Kevin. Studies in Mutualist Political Economy. Charleston, South Carolina: BookSurge Publishing, 2007)
  2. Fogel, Robert. The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  3. Long, Roderick. “Medical Insurance That Worked – Until Government ‘Fixed’ It.” Formulations, Winter 1993.
  4. Ostrom, Elinor. “Reformulating the Commons.”
  5. Thompson, E.P. The Making of the English Working Class. New York: Vintage Books, 1963.

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Can We Really Blame Sociopaths?

By David Swanson. I’ve been hearing increasingly from multiple quarters that the root of our problems is psychopaths and sociopaths and other loosely defined but definitely different beings from ourselves.  Rob Kall has produced a quite interesting series of articles and interviews on the subject.

I want to offer some words of caution if not respectful dissent.  I don’t think the “because chickenhawks” dissent found, for example, in John Horgan’s “The End of War” is sufficient.  That is to say, just because a politician doesn’t want to do the killing himself or herself doesn’t mean the decision to order killing in war, or in prison, or through poverty and lack of healthcare, or through climate change, isn’t heartless and calculating.  Psychopaths could be running our world from behind desks.

But are they?

When I look at national politicians in the United States — presidents and Congress members — I can’t identify any meaningful place to draw a line such that sociopaths would be on one side and healthy people on the other.  They all bow, to one degree or another, to corrupt influences.  They all make bad compromises.  There are differences in both policy positions and personal manners, but the differences are slight and spread along a continuum.  They all fund the largest killing machine in history.  The Progressive Caucus budget proposes slight increases in military spending, already at 57% of the discretionary budget.  Some support wars on “humanitarian” and others on genocidal grounds, but the wars look the same from the receiving end either way.

The slightly better Congress members come from slightly better districts, have taken slightly less money, and begin with slightly more enlightened ideologies.  Or at least that’s true much of the time on many issues.  Often, however, what makes the difference is personal experience.  Senator Diane Feinstein supports warrantless spying on everyone else, but objects when it’s turned against her.  Six years ago, Congressman Mike McNulty said he was voting against war funding because his brother had been killed in Vietnam.  Weren’t four million people killed there? Didn’t many of them have brothers and sisters and other loved ones?  Shouldn’t we oppose mass murder even if nobody in our immediate family has died from mass murder?  In Washington, no one is ashamed to explain their positions by their personal experiences; on the contrary, such rationales are deemed highly admirable — and not just among a certain group who stand apart as the sociopaths.

The spectrum of morality in our elected officials ranges from those who often indicate their concern and their desire to help if their own careers won’t suffer in any way, to those who take tentative stands for peace or justice if their own family is impacted, to those who talk a good line and always act against it, and all the way over to those who don’t even put up a pretense.  But all of this is within a culture where we routinely discuss the supposed need to “humanize” humans.  That is to say, we teach each other that foreigners are made more human when we see their photos and learn their names and stories and the stories of their loved ones in some trivial detail — as if we are supposed to imagine that people don’t have names or quirks or loved ones until we get a specific account of those things.

When it was revealed that a bunch of TV news guest experts on war were actually getting their talking points from the Pentagon, there was no way to watch the videos and distinguish the corrupt pundits from the truly independent ones.  They all talked the same.  The mercenary fraudsters fit right in.  It’s the same with any sociopaths in Congress.  They may be there, but how could one possibly spot the difference?

Kall raises the question of why people enjoy watching shows about sociopaths such as “House of Cards,” and speculates that people admire sociopaths’ ability to stay calm in crises, to express confidence, to project charisma, and to dominate and manipulate others.  That’s probably right.  And such shows spread sociopathy by example.  But there’s also the function such shows serve of explaining (accurately or not) why our government is so bad.  There’s also the joy of hoping against hope that Vice President Underwood will land in prison where so many of his real-life colleagues belong.  But watch the real-life “journalists” playing themselves on fictional TV interviews in these shows. They clearly don’t imagine themselves as having any value that can be lost by such charades.  Watch the advertisements for which many TV shows are filler, and you’ll see politicians routinely describing their opponents as behaving sociopathically.

Some experts believe sociopaths make the best CEOs of large corporations.  Everybody else recognizes that the CEOs of large corporations are given incentives to behave immorally, regardless of whether it impacts them emotionally in a typical manner or not.  Also encouraged to behave immorally are presidents and Congress members.

Well-designed governments encourage good behavior and bar against the potential for evil.  They treat 100% — not 2% or 10% or 80% — of elected officials as potential psychopaths.  Elections are made open and verifiable.  Bribery is forbidden.  Powers are checked and balanced.  Abuses are exposed and punished.  Secrecy is curtailed and openness required.  War powers are placed in a legislature or the public, or war abolished.  Standing armies are disbanded.  Profiteering and other conflicts of interest are avoided.  Adversarial journalism is encouraged.  Our government, in contrast, treats every elected official as a saint capable of overcoming all kinds of bribery and pressure to misbehave, while our culture encourages them and the rest of us to be anything but.

Many agree that we should reform our government, but is something else needed to handle the threat of sociopaths, in public and private life alike? Kall wants sociopaths to be identified and prevented from doing damage.  He wants them treated as alleged sex offenders are, despite the horrible failings of that approach and the much greater difficulty in identifying who is and who is not a sociopath.  Kall goes further, suggesting sterilization.  He writes that he would have happily shot and killed Nazis; and in the next breath lists billionaire Americans he considers parasites — later reassuring us that he doesn’t want to kill them.

The identification process is not clear cut.  Sociopathy seems to be something of a matter of degree, with some small degree reaching all of us.  We allowed our government to destroy Iraq, killing some million people and making millions more refugees, and we talk about that war in terms of how many Americans were killed and how many dollars it cost, as if Iraq doesn’t matter at all.  Or we talk about the military investment that will generate more wars as if it were a jobs program.  That behavior looks like sociopathy to others.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee is the quintessential non-sociopath on Capitol Hill, the one member who voted against launching the past dozen years of wars.  But I was once in a room with her and other progressive members of Congress, relatively early in the Bush-Cheney rampage, proposing that impeachment be begun. Congresswoman Maxine Waters proposed opening an effort to impeach Vice President Cheney.  Excitement gripped us.  For an instant a few of us could imagine Congress pushing back against the lawlessness that has rolled on unimpeded to this day. And then Congresswoman Lee spoke up and said nobody had better do anything without getting approval from John Conyers.  And that was that.  Not sociopathy. But not pure principled morality either.

Studying the phenomenon of extreme cases at the other end of the spectrum from Rep. Lee is certainly desirable.  What makes John McCain or Hillary Clinton tick?  How could Dick Cheney contemplate ordering Americans to attack each other in the Straight of Hormuz in order to blame it on Iran and start a war?  How could George W. Bush laugh off his lies about Iraq and claim it didn’t matter?  How could he proudly declare he would waterboard people again if given the chance?  How could Barack Obama go to Copenhagen and intentionally and maliciously block any serious agreement to confront climate change?  How could he pretend to know that Gadaffi was going to slaughter Benghazians or that Assad used chemical weapons, when evidence has emerged that he couldn’t possibly have known any such things?

But if there have always been sociopaths everywhere, why are some societies doing more evil than others?  Has the 95% of humanity that is currently investing dramatically less in war than the United States, identified and controlled its sociopaths? Or have they, rather, created less evil paths to power and influence? If a sociopath wants power and influence, why not give him or her a system in which good behavior is rewarded? In 1928 Secretary of State Frank Kellogg, who cared not a damn for peace, worked night and day for the peace treaty known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact because he saw rewards in that direction and told his wife he might get himself a Nobel Peace Prize. Had power lain in the direction of war-making, that’s the direction Kellogg would have headed. If sociopaths make great propagandists, why not train better critical thinkers to see through the lies? Mentally healthy or not, our Congress members are holding off on bombing Syria or Iran because we’ve rejected the idea that doing so would improve things.

There is a danger, I think, in focusing on sociopaths’ existence as the problem, of developing a cure as bad as the disease.  Identifying a group of people to be targeted for discrimination, eugenics, imprisonment, or death seems like the habit of a culture that is itself more of a problem than are the genes of a small minority within it likely to be.  What kind of a culture would produce such an idea?  A sick one, I believe.

I agree with Kall that billionaires can be identified and their billions re-claimed.  Excellent proposal!  But not every immoral decider is a billionaire.  Nor do I find it likely that every politician who promotes some evil practice can be diagnosed as a sociopath or psychopath.  Wouldn’t it be easier to identify evil politicians by their evil deeds?  What would be gained by identifying them instead as the sort of people likely to do something evil, and giving that category of people a scientific name?  If an elected official fails to protect the environment, fails to advance peace and justice, fails to deal honestly and fairly with the people, he or she should be held accountable.  If recognizing that such a person’s emotions may not be functioning like ours helps us to reach them with our demands, terrific.  But if it prevents us from reaching their emotions in a way that we might have, and from communicating our views more widely in the process, then it’s hurting the cause of justice.

It’s not as if we can’t recognize the sociopaths coming.  Molly Ivins warned us about Bush.  He lost his election. Twice.  Many of us warned about Obama.  Twice.  But Bush wasn’t born destined to engage in extraordinary renditions.  Obama wasn’t born destined to drone-kill children on Tuesdays.  Our entire system moves in that direction.  Bush and Obama should be prosecuted and imprisoned, along with many of their colleagues — as a step toward fixing the system.  But their bodies shouldn’t be studied for clues about whom to sterilize.  Only a political culture already itself sterilized would think that was the solution.

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Future of love and sex: monogamy no longer the default, say experts

By Dick Pelletier. There’s a pervasive notion that monogamous relationships are the end-all-be-all – the default pact in human couplings that keep the fabric of society from being torn apart. But growing numbers of scientists believe monogamy is not our biological default; and may not even represent the best road to happiness.

Nearly all mammalian species demonstrate sexual promiscuity. Even mate-for-life prairie voles, the animal kingdom’s poster child of monogamous relationships produce pups from different fathers twenty percent of the time. Moreover, say historians, for humans, promiscuous behavior is not new at all.

    Anthropologists have uncovered clues to how our Paleolithic ancestors lived. Before the advent of agriculture, humans faced a short, brutal lifespan. Some survived to age 50, but most died young or at birth with average life expectancy in the 30-to-40 range.

With such a short lifespan, ancestral children were likely to experiment with sex by age six. Most couples lived in temporary relationships, and being unfaithful was common for these cave dwellers.

When our forbears found themselves in an unhappy situation, they simply walked away and found another cave. Scientists believe that hunter-gatherers had sex mostly for fun, not just to reproduce.

Rutgers University researcher Helen Fisher has written five books on the future of human sex, love, and relationships, and she believes that marriage has changed more in the last 100 years than the previous 10,000, and it could change more in the next 20 years than it did in the past 100!

David Levy, author of Love and Sex With Robots predicts that as robots become more sophisticated, growing numbers of adventurous humans will enter into intimate relationships with these intelligent ‘bots.

A robot partner would be the perfect mate, never showing boredom or being inattentive, Levy says. You will always be the focus and centerpiece of their existence and you never need worry about their being unfaithful or going astray, because loyalty and being faithful will be embedded into their programming.

Our concept of infidelity is also changing. Some married couples agree that it’s OK to have brief sexual encounters when they travel separately; others sustain long-term adulterous relationships with their spouse’ approval. Moreover, recent studies have shown that relationships like these with less pressure on ‘being faithful’ are more stress-free for both participants, leading to happier lives.

Internet dating wields its impact on relationships too. Matching people with great partners is getting so efficient, and the process so enjoyable, that marriage itself may one day become obsolete.

As we wind through the 21st Century, new relationships will challenge many of our traditions and social policies. Houston futurist Sandy Burchsted, who recently spoke at a World Future Society conference, believes that in the future, most people will marry at least four times and experience extramarital affairs with little public censure. Marriage will be considered an evolutionary process, not a one-time-only event.

It may be time to rethink monogamy, especially given the way that the world has politicized the concept of marriage. As prairie voles aren’t “pure as the driven snow,” there is also no biological evidence to suggest that human beings are naturally monogamous. We may be culturally and socially encouraged to be faithful, but it is unclear how much that sway really has over our biology.

Some believe a monogamous relationship is the best way to achieve happiness; but many experts say not so fast. Researchers found that non-monogamous relationships reported higher levels of satisfaction and intimacy, and less jealousy than experienced by monogamous pairings.

Today, we live in a sea of technologies that reshape our lives. To bond is human and drives to fall in love are embedded in our nature. With new sex and romance aids, such as Viagra and estrogen replacement, and science providing us with longer healthier lifespans, we have the opportunity to create a more fulfilling partnership than at any other time in history. Welcome to the future!


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Meat the future

In this video by Beckmans College of Design published 2 years ago, we get a great glimpse at what the future of food and meat production will look like…

Meat the future is a project that intends to inform people about todays unsustainable and inhumane meat industry. But also give hope for a change as there is a solution in sight, called In Vitro meat.

Please help us spread the word! If you would like to get in touch with us, please send an email to

This is a project by Afshin Moeini, Christian Poppius and Kim Brundin from Beckmans College of Design.


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Internet Security Is Our Responsibility

By William Sheppard
As we learn more and more details regarding government spying, it seems more and more foolhardy to trust our security to third party businesses.The state requires information on its subjects to be effective. From the first census in Egypt more than 5000 years ago, states have sought personal information on their citizens, especially in tyrannical states, where informants and secret police gather information on any and all potentially subversive activities.

In the age of the Internet and the surveillance state, spy agencies collect information on us that would make Stalin’s NKVD green with envy — much of it naively handed over via social media. When the surveillance state will be dismantled is anyone’s guess, but, in the meantime, the less useful data that can be collected on us the less effective the state’s control of us. For activists, use of private or anonymous communication in first world countries could be key to avoiding pre-emptive arrest, In places like Syria, it becomes a matter of life and death.

Initially, I had hoped companies like Google would come to the rescue by implementing powerful encryption systems; unfortunately it seems less and less likely that corporations beholden to shareholders and intertwined with government can effectively and securely create these services. While these big companies with their large profits and lobbying budgets are probably in the best position to fight back against the surveillance state, they  also have the most to lose if they don’t play along.

Ladar Levison’s Lavabit was a semi-secure email service. In August, Levison shut down Lavabit citing government threats and interference. Observers speculated that Levison had received a National Security Letter demanding customer data, likely that of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Recently unsealed court document show that a warrant was issued for the private SSL key for the Lavabit service. This key allows a secure encrypted connection between user and server. Having access to this key would give the government real time access to information being sent by users to the site. This in turn would allow them to scoop up log-in credentials and access the encrypted emails of any of Lavabit’s 400,000 customers.

Much to his credit, Ladar Levison decided to shut down Lavabit — denying access to the privately stored communications of its customers. This sort of principled stance is unexpected. Levison didn’t have shareholders to answer to. He answered to himself and his customers. We cannot expect large tech corporations like Google, who put forth the public image of being on our side and actually attempt to publicize government intrusion, to actually defy the government when compelled by law. Other players, such as Microsoft, appear to be enthusiastic in their collaboration with the NSA and other 3 letter agencies.

So what does this all mean for us? Is it all doom and gloom? No! We have to take this into our own hands. There are a multitude of free and open source projects and open standards for encryption. From what we understand, the NSA has broken encryption through coercion and subversion, not by raw attempts at bashing away at the numbers and cracking the codes. Most likely, we can still trust the mathematics.

When a project is open source its code is open to scrutiny. It can be vetted and we can know exactly how it does what it does. While the majority of us do not have the technical know-how to look through the code of a specific program to vet it before compiling it,  trusted researchers and academics can and do vet these for us. Thus we can be aware of potential vulnerabilities of encryption software and know the limits of its capabilities. When we communicate with PGP, for example, we are using an open standard. We do not need to trust our communications to a company that may have been coerced by government to compromise our privacy. With PGP, you are  in possession of your private key and no one else can be made to hand it over. The Tor project, due to its complexity, is not so clear cut. Because of its distributed nature, there are more opportunities for exploitation, but the project is open source and these potential exploits are documented so we are able to understand its limits.

The conclusions we must draw is that we are in this together. If we decide to use corporate service that claim to be secure, we must be aware that they could be compromised at any time — not through brute force, but coercive force. With closed source encryption software, there is no way to evaluate or trust the developer’s claims. When we use open source encryption software we must make ourselves aware of its limitations and use it accordingly.

Internet security is our responsibility.

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